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Optimizing lifting and mental health Part 1

Let’s paint a picture.

You have a supportive family. A great job. A program that’s getting you PR’s weekly.  But still, life gets in the way and some days are harder than others. “Normal”.

You go to the gym after a fight with your significant other… but luckily you have a gym session coming up and it’s all you can think about. Arriving, the music is bumping and the class is primed for action, you grab the barbell and go to work. After, drenched in sweat, the issues of the past few hours are quiet, or maybe non-existent, and you realize the session “cured” your emotional dysregulation and you think to yourself “Who would ever pay a counselor or a therapist when I have a gym!?”

Later, you're at home scrolling through your instagram or facebook feed and...

see a picture of a barbell and squat rack with caption of “therapy”.

You repost it because after all, your issue dissolved, as if out of the sweat you poured out.

These posts got me curious as to the idea behind the gym being “therapy” people, and in turn what it means to someone like me who is an actual therapist.

So I’d like to break this post down because I think there's a deeper meaning to what's really going on here and a more productive and helpful way to view these posts. Let's look at what therapy/counseling truly is:

“The application of mental health, psychological, or human development principles, through cognitive, effective, behavioral or systematic intervention strategies, that address wellness, personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology.”

from the American Counseling Association.

It hits on a number of good criteria of what therapy really is so let's keep that definition in mind and discuss what people are really feeling after or during exercise.

I think a lot of people are feeling some sort of release of emotion when lifting, whether they bring it to the barbell or to the gym.

So they're bringing those feelings or issues to the barbell or what have you, and exercising with that thought in the forefront or in the middle ground of their minds. While they are working out this feeling subsides and is quieted. But note: it has not been resolved. One does not have an argument with their significant other then go squat a 10RM, and the other party magically has no recollection or adverse feelings of the event. Following me? Does this explanation fit our definition of therapy? Actually, it fits more closely with the definition of catharsis.


We still don't’ have a good definition, check back Wednesday as we continue to find our tools for optimizing our gym time and mental health.

Citations in italics:
Definition of professional counseling. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/news/updates/2004/07/26/definition-of-professional-counseling